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Nanaimo union adds to calls for national ban on asbestos use

An organization representing unions across the country received support from a Nanaimo-based union in its campaign to ban asbestos use in Canada.

The Canadian Labour Congress along with the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union called on the federal government to ban asbestos use in Canada during a joint news conference in Nanaimo on Wednesday.

The labour congress, which has been lobbying for an amendment to federal environmental protection act to include an total ban on asbestos for years, wants to see the creation of a national registry of buildings and schools that contain asbestos. The organization recently launched two online videos raising awareness about the dangers of asbestos.

Ellen Oxman, president of the Canadian Labour Congress’s Nanaimo chapter, told the News Bulletin that
asbestos is the leading cause of death among Canadian workers.

“It is Canada’s deadliest workplace killer,” Oxman said. “Over 2,000 die every year from asbestos-related diseases and those deaths from asbestos-related diseases are completely preventable.”

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that contains heat-resistant and insulating properties. It was used extensively in manufactured products such as roof sealants, ceiling and floor tiles, cement, gasket, brake pads, rotors, linings, shoes and transmission clutch pads during the 19th and 20th centuries.

However in certain applications, asbestos can be easily inhaled and ingested. During the 1970s and 1980s, health officials began linking long-term asbestos exposure to lung cancer. Its use was eventually regulated, but never banned outright in Canada.

Today, asbestos is banned completely in more than 30 countries including Australia, France, Germany, Ireland and Saudi Arabia according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Oxman said although Canada stopped mining the cancerous mineral in 2012, it continues to import products made with asbestos from other countries.

"Other countries are using it in their manufacturing and we import from them and so it is sort of hidden within products that we might not realize," she said.

Graeme Johnston, ferry and marine workers’ union president told the News Bulletin that it is time for Canada to ban asbestos, as it is "woven" into worksites across the province and nationwide.

“That’s not a figurative thing, it is quite literal,” he said.

Johnston explained that members of his union, particularly those who work on older ships, are at risk of exposure to asbestos. He said the cancer-causing material is likely to be found in older fireproofing and insulation materials, above ceiling panels and bulkheads or around pipes.

“Any time you have to do work on these vessels or any time something happens where you have to get in behind one of the spaces where asbestos has been contained or encapsulated, you’re running the risk of exposure,” Johnston said.

Johnston is not aware of any of his members developing any major health complications due to asbestos exposure, but said he's expecting cases to emerge in the coming years.

“The expectation is that deaths with
asbestos are going to increase over the next few years because of exposure back in the 70s and 80s,” he said. “Even though I can’t think of someone offhand, which isn’t to say that they don’t exist, I am quite sure that it is just a matter of time that we start seeing it.”

Oxman is optimistic about asbestos ban in the near future.

"We believe we are actually very close to winning a comprehensive ban on asbestos and making sure that we don’t see another generation of workers die because of something that is completely preventable," she said.

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